Freelance journalists at risk in Ukraine amid shortage of bulletproof vests

Charity reports shortage of protective equipment for freelance journalists in Ukraine

A shortage of bulletproof vests and other protective equipment has raised concerns for the safety and welfare of freelance correspondents reporting from Ukraine.

Clothilde Redfern, director of the journalist charity The Rory Peck Trust, said the charity and its various media partners had been struggling to source the right protection for journalists in Ukraine.

Two Danish freelance journalists reporting for The Daily Beast were shot near the town of Okhtyrka in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. Both survived the attack after driving their damaged car to a nearby hospital.

On Tuesday cameraman Yevhenii Sakun, who worked for Ukrainian television station Live, died during the Russian attack on a TV tower in Kyiv. He is believed to be the first journalist to be killed as a result of the war.

Redfern told Press Gazette that the invasion had taken some journalists by surprise, leaving many scrambling to get their hands on the right equipment and provide hostile environment training.

“The principal requests for assistance we’ve received from journalists in Ukraine, it’s protection kits [flak jackets and helmets]… For some reason, there’s a real dearth of supply in the whole country. It’s not just us that have found it difficult,” she said. “I think the difference is that when journalists plan to go on assignment and report from a war, they go with the right kit. What’s happened here is journalists have found themselves suddenly in a country at war, unexpectedly.”

Redfern said that one of the charity’s main broadcasting partners was unable to source any helmets or flak jackets in Ukraine and so had to fly the team to Paris to get protective kit before flying them back to Ukraine.

She said: “We’ve seen that many of our partners have been delivering online safety training and shorter versions of what is covered in any hostile environment course online to journalists in situ in the country.

“If you’re a journalist at the BBC, and you’re about to go to a conflict to report, you will have access to a team of security experts that have years of experience. They will know exactly what to prepare for,” she said. “You will probably have somebody on the ground whose job it is to plan exit routes, who has years of experience of situational awareness, who can judge when a situation tips over from safe to stay and get the story to unsafe to stay here and get the story.”

Some 15 UK journalists have been killed covering the conflicts of the 21st century.

Writing for Press Gazette, John Sweeney discussed some of the issues he has encountered while reporting freelance from Ukraine.

He said: “I envy my colleagues from the big organisations their support, the people in place watching their back, their ability to leave Kyiv. I think that my friends in the big organisations might envy me a little because I’ve decided to stay here. I voted remain in 2016 and I’m voting remain in Kyiv in 2022.”

The Rory Peck Trust is named after a freelance cameraman, who was killed in Moscow in 1993 by crossfire while covering a gun battle during the October coup.

Both the NUJ and the International Federation of Journalists have called on UNESCO to help ensure the safety of journalists in the Ukraine.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “As journalists continue to report in dangerous conditions across Ukraine, Unesco must act now to ensure their safety within the country.

“The NUJ stands in solidarity with sister unions and has supported calls for donations to the International Federation of Journalists’ safety fund. We also urge all employers and engagers to ensure that staff and freelance journalists reporting across Ukraine on their behalf have all the necessary safety equipment and support they need.”

Image: Reuters / Vitaliy Gnidyi

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